Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds


Sunday, 8 May 2016

1st-8th May

Thorncombe Street is experiencing a purple patch. In the 10 days since my last post, I've managed 6 patch year ticks, 4 of them coming this weekend. Remarkably, 2 of the ones seen during the last 2 days were patch life ticks. However, one of them blew the others out the water, and indeed eclipsed anything else I've found on my patch, providing me with probably my most thrilling and memorable moment in over 15 years of birding in Surrey.

On May 1st, it was a surprise to note a Yellow Wagtail calling, as it flew SE over Middle Copse field (near Wintershall). I'd seen and heard a couple at Tice's Meadow the day before, but to have one over a moderately wooded area was unusual. My best guess is that it had been on the cow field at Gatestreet Farm just up from Wintershall. On May 3rd, I was delighted to hear a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker drumming and calling in a private area (which is the main reason I didn't put news out). These birds have become desperately scarce, and I imagine that this individual was an unpaired male. Matt Phelps had one at Winkworth in April, and it could well be the same bird, trying in vain to attract a mate. I have not heard it since.

A Greylag with Canada's at Gatestreet Farm on the 1st May
I got Black-winged Stilts on my Surrey list on the evening of the 4th, and on the 5th I was mainly out of the county with Robin Stride, (shamefully) twitching an Oriental Turtle Dove in Kent and enjoying a spectacular sea-watch at Splash Point, which included 3 Pomarine Skuas. Late in the day we did get out on Thorncombe Street, and heard one of the Firecrests on territory. With the forecasts for the weekend looking very good for migrants, with warm temperatures and prolonged sunny spells, I planned a sky-watch from Allden's Hill for most of the day on Saturday 7th. 

I woke to news of a Sanderling at a private site close to home, so popped over to check it out, bagging Common Sandpiper, Sedge Warbler and Cuckoo too. My new camera ran out of juice at this point, as I await the USB, so you'll have to wait for exceptionally average pictures of the Sanderling. I was on the hill by 10:30 and it was very hot, at least 22 degrees already, and plentiful Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs were in full song, as well as 2 Garden Warblers giving it their all a few feet behind my seat. Most notable were the raptors, enjoying the thermals, with decent numbers of the 4 regular species (31 Buzzards, 4 Red Kites, 3 Sparrowhawks and 4 Kestrels). The Cuckoo was relentless from 10:30-14:30, singing for a few seconds at least every 15 minutes or so. Hopefully this warm weather brings in a mate for him.

I was enjoying the birdsong when, at 11:39, I picked up a high-flying raptor just to the left of my centre of vision, which was directly opposite Allden's Hill, towards Slade's Farm. My first thought was "that's a large Kestrel", and as I raised my binoculars to the bird it became instantaneously clear I was locked on to a Harrier. I stared and stared - yep, it was a Harrier. It had an exceptionally long tail and sharp, falcon like wings, but it was merely a silhouette as it cruised at a fair speed NW, and away from the sun. However, as it continued its path the light changed, and as I viewed the bird from underneath extensive dark on the primaries, as well as a clear dark-grey tone to what seemed like the entire underparts, and a seemingly dark tail, were in evidence. At this point I knew what it was, a species I'd seen plenty of just a few weeks ago in Spain - a male MONTAGU'S HARRIER

These cracking views were gone in seconds. The bird continued it's determined flight, disappearing out of view not much more than a minute after I first set eyes on it, without uttering one wing-beat. I was shocked. I still am, recalling this now. Had I not seen the plumage details for that short time, I wouldn't be certain, but the shape and time of year would have left it very probable. It was the wrong shape for Hen, and despite having never seen a male Pallid Harrier this bird was no way near pale enough underneath. I was frustrated my camera was out of battery, but I don't think I'd have got on it in time even if I could have done. I alerted a few friends ASAP, including Matt who patches directly NW of me, but unfortunately he was elsewhere at the time.

I later learnt that there was a small arrival of Montagu's Harriers in the south and east of England not just on the same day, but at the same time. Remarkably, a bird was reported at 11:35 at Titchwell in Norfolk, just 4 minutes before mine, and a female was seen in neighbouring Sussex at 12:20, only 41 minutes later. Truly incredible. Presumably, this bird came in off the sea earlier in the morning and just cruised northwards. I very rarely see local raptors so high over here. A county mega, on the patch. I think there have been less than 20 vice-county records (may be wrong), and only 2 previously in the Godalming area.

Completely struck by this moment, I had a beaming smile on my face for the remainder of the day. The patch year tick of a Hobby less than 15 minutes seems a mere footnote now, the bird hawking for insects over Allden's Hill before drifting off SE, potentially a local bird back on territory as oppose to a migrant passing through. A steady stream of Swallows passed through, and at 13:15 I was gifted another year tick, 2 Swifts making their way W. Before I went out, 1 Swift would have made the day, so it seems bizarre that they were 3rd in the queue. To be honest, this whole day will go down in my minds folklore. I can't see it getting much better on the patch than 7th May 2016.

There wasn't much calm after the storm, however, as the next morning I was alerted to a Tweet that reported a singing Nightingale on Clockhouse Lane, Bramley, the south of which sneaks into the far north-west of my patch recording area. I decided to check it out in the late afternoon, and a brief walk down the path proved unnecessary as I heard the Nightingale singing quietly from brambles next to the car. It wasn't giving it full gusto, but I managed a brief recording. The bird also showed itself briefly, and I was delighted to gain another patch tick, for which many thanks go to Nigel Mathias. Nightingales bred near Scotsland Farm until the 1980's at least, but I've never had one before, or indeed visited this scrubby part of the patch. Maybe this purple patch will continue, and I'll find my first Lesser Whitethroat here?